Guest blog post by Bart Somers, Vice-President of the ALDE Group in the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Mayor of Mechelen.
At the start of the new mandate of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), the European institution in charge of giving a voice to the EU’s local and regional authorities, combatting radicalization was adopted as one of the most important priorities and I was appointed as rapporteur to take the initiative in defining a European policy and approach for cities. My city of Mechelen, along with others, signaled from the very beginning the first signs of radicalization. Thanks to a strong network we have been able to intervene quickly. But this is a lengthy process and one for which there was but little shared knowledge. Just as I was starting on this opinion, the mass shootings in Paris took place, which were unfortunately followed in March this year by the Brussels attacks, which cost the lives of 32 people, and this only a few dozen kilometers from my own city. It showed once again the necessity to exchange knowledge and experience on a European level.
In my opinion for the CoR, I particularly emphasize prevention, knowing that radicalisation has very similar characteristics to what we see in cults: once someone has been brainwashed, it is difficult to turn them back. This also goes hand in hand with the process of isolation, which makes reaching out to the victim even more difficult. In a world where there is so much on offer, such diversity and also confusion, a simplistic black and white vision sounds attractive. The offer of extremists of going from zero to hero arouses one’s interest. It is therefore important to stop this process at an early stage. That is why local authorities in the EU are crucial in a de-radicalisation policy. They and only they can build an inclusive network in which the simple black and white story can be exposed.
Every one of us has multiple identities. That of a father, sister, student, Muslim, European,… The core task of a city lies in creating a common denominator, an identity in which every citizen feels at home, and connected. For this, we need an open identity; a city that has the trust of its inhabitants. That mutual trust doesn’t come from living segregated from one another. It is by living with each other that instead of an individual a group appears. The “ghettoization” of certain neighborhoods does not only contribute to a feeling of lawlessness, but also of disavowal. When grey zones arise, neighborhoods where the rule of law doesn’t apply anymore, that are going down the hill and where drug dealers rule, a sub-society is created which forms the ideal recruitment base for an anti-policy. That is why an urban policy also has to deliver security and protect the weakest, while at the same time investing in livable housing, a qualitative open space, good schools, jobs,… in these neighbourhoods
People should be able to feel proud about the neighbourhood they live in, have the feeling that they can be a part of a community. The ghettoization that I mentioned can be fought at the local level in Europe by investments in the social infrastructure, but even more by creating equal chances. A strong policy against exclusion and discrimination is therefore crucial. Not only because this is part of our fundamental European principles, but also because it obstructs upward social mobility. That mobility is necessary to continue to empower people. There is no one to one relationship between exclusion and discrimination, but in disadvantaged neighbourhoods or groups the risk for alienation is far higher. In this lies a wide open boulevard for hostility towards government or the society one is a part of, and where extremists can as a result more easily recruit from. That is why, among other recommendations, I call on the European Commission to highlight the coordinating role of local authorities in preventing radicalisation, and to support their pivotal role by prioritizing the establishment of a European framework for action to combat radicalization at the local, regional and national level.
Today Bart Somers, Vice-President of the ALDE Group in the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Mayor of Mechelen, presents his opinion with policy recommendations “Combatting Radicalisation and Violent Extremism: Prevention mechanisms at local and regional level” at the plenary session of the CoR. With his work, Somers is at the forefront of defining EU policy on combatting radicalization.Blogactiv Team